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Shanghai Surprise

by Catherine A. Skrzypinski

Strolling along Shanghai’s bustling streets in the wee hours of the morning, tai chi devotees pass trendy, cell phone-chatting youths. The diversity of the 15 million people living in Shanghai is a constant reminder of a city in the midst of rapid change. Glancing upwards, you will notice that the skyline is dominated by cranes, a tangible example of Shanghai’s rebirth. The city continues to grow with new underground stations, highways crisscrossing the city, an ultra-modern stock exchange and the most available office space in the world. Yet, what attracts most tourists to Shanghai is the stately European architecture of the Bund and the Chinese pagodas of the YuYuan Gardens. Now is the perfect time to explore China’s most bustling metropolis.

Gazing at Shanghai’s famed waterfront the Bund, most Westerners gasp, “I feel like I’m in Europe!” Back in Shanghai’s heyday of international commerce, the elegant buildings were filled with European banks and shops. Nowadays, most of the buildings are vacant because of exorbitant rent fees. The promenade along the Huangpu River is a prime spot for people watching and munching on corn on the cob. Don’t be surprised if a young Chinese couple practices their English with you and ask you to be in a picture with them! The Bund is illuminated until 10 p.m.

The ferry across the Huangpu River bridges Shanghai’s past and future. For only 10 cents, you can cross the river to see the emerging financial district in Pudong. Many people rave about going to the top of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the most unusual and tallest tower in Asia, but beware – the admission fee is almost as high as the tower.
Back on the mainland, most visitors and natives can’t resist the shopping along Nanjing Lu, a cross between New York’s Fifth Avenue and London’s Oxford Street. McDonald’s trolleys lure Westerners to the nearest Golden Arches for a taste of home, while there are bargains to be had at Shanghai No. 1 Department Store.

Eager to escape the hustle and bustle? The YuYuan Gardens is the perfect retreat...well, during the week at least, as the weekends tend to attract masses of tourists and natives. Critics slam the YuYuan Gardens as a Disney-esque interpretation of Chinese culture, but most will find the grounds of ponds and pagodas quite picturesque. Engulfing the gardens is the YuYuan Bazaar, the perfect place to pick up some souvenir chopsticks and a heaping plate of ‘guotie’ (dumplings) at Lao Fandian, right in the heart of the bazaar.

The Shanghai Metro is a clean and speedy transportation option to get around town, with bilingual Chinese and English signs and announcements. However, its reach across greater Shanghai is limited. Adventurous souls could venture onto public buses if they have a good command of speaking and writing Chinese, but the best bet to get around town is to hail a taxi. Few trips will cost more than $5-$6, and be sure to carry a business card with the name of your hotel written in Chinese characters to show the cab driver, since most do not speak English. 
Despite the technological and architectural developments of the past decade, Shanghai has yet to discover its true identity. The juxtaposition of the Bund’s European colonial facade and the crane infested, Star Wars-inspired Pudong skyline has given the Paris of China a bit of a schizophrenic complex. But in time, Shanghai will be shedding the cranes to unveil one of the most promising and exciting cities in Asia, if not the world.  End

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